Black-clothed Men and Imperial Guards
Father’s funeral was done frugally. He was never one to live in luxury when he was alive, so it was only natural that his funeral was done in a low-key manner.
There were not many people who came to offer condolences. It was not a surprise, the tea naturally turned cold after the person passed.
Yan Yu came once.
He placed three stick of incense in front of Father’s coffin, before sighing heavily, caressing the coffin. He was in tears.
The sound of my laughter made him pause.
“Don’t be sad Uncle Yan. My Father is lazy and is taking the advantage to rest, that is why he leaves first. The Great Qi’s 100,000 armies are pressuring our border, the flame of war has rekindled. The armies cannot do without you. As for Father, he can sleep in peace. Let him sleep.”
Perhaps, he was horrified at the fact that I was not crying. He sighed, “This child…..”
It was not the time for him to scold me unfilial, so he only turned around walked away.
After he left, I could hear the sound of Uncle Tong’s voice from the other side of the mantle, “The old Master left like this, what of Xiao Lang?”
An Qing sounded considerably upset as he replied him, “The old Master had kept Xiao Lang within his palm while he was alive, who would have known that he would end up getting angered to death by Xiao Lang. She had a heart of stone, she didn’t even shed a single tear. Unfilial……”
I rested my forehead against my Father’s coffin. It had been days since I last slept. Ever since that night of heavy rain, I couldn’t fall asleep no matter how hard I tried. I kept seeing Father’s bloody face.
I kept vigil in front of Father’s coffin, I couldn’t even tell day from night. I curiously pressed my small dagger against my leg. I could still feel pain, but it would soon be overcome by the pain in my heart. I looked at the red color of blood, it looked exactly the same as the blood that marred Father’s face. It brought pain into my eyes.
I heard Uncle Tong’s soft sigh, “You don’t understand. An Qing. The old Master considered the court a corrupted place. He liked how carefree our Xiao Lang was, he had no plan to push her into the dirty pond.”
I felt as though my heart was being grasped tight by a hand, it was hard for me to breathe. As I hid beyond the mantle, the dagger in my hand continued to pressed hard against my leg. I couldn’t tell the difference between pressing it lightly and pressing it hard, but seeing the alarming color of red painting my clothes, I felt as though I was bathing in a pool of blood.
An Qing was not convinced, “This is not about Xiao Lang wanting to get involved or not……. Didn’t someone came by to ask to meet Xiao Lang two days ago? He said he wanted our Young Master to take charge? I don’t understand why Uncle Tong stopped that person. What is wrong with allowing Xiao Lang to continue the old Master’s legacy?”
Uncle Tong never told me of such a thing.
“What do you know? Do you know if those people were sincere when they said they wanted to welcome Xiao Lang to take charge? Maybe they just wanted to push a puppet to act as the leader so they can play king from behind. An Qing, I will not stop you if you wants to chase glory. It is about time for you to think about your future too. But Xiao Lang cannot. Xiao Lang only needs to live happily, that was what the old Master wanted.”
I bit my lips; I could feel blood from between my teeth. Father, would your anger towards me lessen if I obediently listen you and live a simple life? Would you start forgiving me, little by little?
I knocked my head absent-mindedly against the coffin, the hand that grasped my heart seemed to be grasping it even tighter. I had a feeling that I would stop breathing very soon.
The empress dowager continued sending us gifts; the gifts would be buried along with Father.
After a couple of days of keeping vigil, four or five men in black visited our manor.
When night came, I would ask people to light up candles before staying vigil with Uncle Tong in the mourning hall. Occasionally, I would bump into one of the black clothes men when I was walking out to relieve myself.
After four or five nights, I had no idea what news the palace received, but the empress dowager suddenly sent imperial guards to safeguard our manor. Those imperial guards ran rampant in our manor, they turned our manor’s rooms upside down. The worried me glanced at them from sideway as I walked. All their movements stopped as those guards stared at me.
I was on my way to my chamber to look for bandage. If Uncle Tong discover the blood on my leg, he would get worried and scold me.
I politely nodded at them, “Our manor is frugal so there are not many form of entertainment or service. If any of you is thirsty, feel free to go to the kitchen to drink. The servants here are all old, so please be magnanimous.”
After that I head to my room, it was naturally not spared as well. They turned everything upside down. Lucky my things were still in the original position. I picked up a white cloth and wrapped them around the wound in my leg. After that, I head to the room next door.
The room next door was my Father’s. When I entered his chamber, I felt as though someone had punched me in the head; my entire head was aching. The room was now beyond recognition, they even overturned some of the tiles. What exactly were they looking for?
I took a couple of steps into the room. Amongst the pile of things, I spotted a red object. It looked familiar so I bent down to pick it up. It was a wooden carving of a little fish. The fish was polished very smooth, it was dyed red and upon one glance, it looked pretty life-like. There was a golden loop inside the fish’s mouth while above it was a pair of double fish knot. It looked like something a child would play with and hung in their waist.
I only remembered it after thinking for a long time, this was something Father personally made me when I was little. He carved the little fish with his own hand; he was the one who colored it; even the double fish knot was braided by him. I treated this like treasure when I was little; I took it everywhere and played with it all the time. But then, the color faded and I found a new treasure object so I casually took this off and dropped this in my chamber.
I had no idea when Father mended this. The color looked so vivid, he must had repeatedly re-dyed it over the years.
Turned out, I had always been capricious, I would casually drop my precious treasure. I only discovered this now that those people accidentally dug this out from Father’s chamber.
Tears rolled down my face and fell into the little fish. My hand suddenly turned red from the dye. I grasped that fish tight, as though I was grasping my most precious treasure. I really wanted to stuff it inside my heart to replace the large gaping hole in there.
The night Father’s coffin was to be sealed, the entire manor was in deep silence.
Uncle Tong took a box and opened it in front of me. “Xiao Lang, I don’t know how to handle this thing that the old Master left by.”
I probed inside and saw a palm-sized ink jade block; it seemed to lack it’s other half. It looked pretty weird. I touched it with my hands, I suddenly realized something. Were those people looking for this?
“Is this Father’s?”
Uncle Tong hesitated for a moment before nodding.
I took it’s container, saying, “Since it belonged to Father, let’s just bury it along with him!” I turned around and placed it next to Father’s legs. After that, I gave a last look at Father who looked like he was in the middle of a long, peaceful sleep. Then, I slowly covered the coffin with it’s lid.
Uncle Tong was stunned when he saw what I did, “Xiao Lang…… Xiao Lang……”
I curiously asked, “What? Is ink jade block forbidden to be placed in a coffin? There is such a rule?”
Uncle Tong suddenly laughed, he looked pretty odd, “Good! Good! Let’s do it Xiao Lang’s way! It is better to bury this with him! Let’s do it Xiao Lang’s way!” Even though he was laughing, tears rolled down from his eyes.
Both of us sealed the coffin together. Father was buried the next day; everything went on smoothly.
After that, I entered the palace to thank the empress dowager’s kind grace.
The empress dowager was crying really hard; as though she just lost a father. I felt a little embarrassed. I secretly thought that lucky we buried Father early, if the empress dowager wanted to keep vigil with me, people would have thought that they have blood ties.
I originally thought that Father coming home while being carried that day was due to her ‘accidentally doing something’ towards Father. But seeing the way she cried while choking several times, I realized I thought wrong. I listened to her story about how much Father helped her, and how Father went through hard times with the previous emperor and much much more. Me who hadn’t sleep in a while felt my head throbbing.
When women cried, they would exhaust you to death.
Lucky Xiao Huang was still the same. Seeing me, he immediately placed bucket load of pastries in front of me before pointing at me with weird eyes, “Xiao Yi, aren’t your eyes supposed to be swollen until you cannot see people?”
I glared at him, “What you said should be applied to women, not men.” I said before stuffing a red bean cake into my mouth.
Perhaps he wasn’t as stupid as I thought he would be; he only stared at me for a long time, appearing as though he was in low-spirit like he was the one who lost a father.
I was already tired from comforting the empress dowager in Yi Ning Hall so I had no mood to comfort him. I continued eating until I was half full, “Your Majesty, I want to become a soldier in Sui City.”
Xiao Huang was so shocked, his jaw might as well fall. “Xiao Yi, I understand that you are sad over the Regent’s death. I too was sad when my imperial father passed. Imperial mother already told me to properly give you a position, just give me the name of any major six departments and you can have it. You don’t have to go to war.” He immediately turned his head to look at me as he said that. Once he made sure no servants were around, he leaned towards me, “I heard, the Crown Prince of the Great Qi was really capable. Don’t go to Sui City.”
When Uncle Tong found out I wanted to go to Sui City, he only hugged me and cried on my shoulder. “Xiao Lang, since you wants to go to Sui City, that thing……….. That thing was already buried……”
I had no interest in whatever ‘thing’ he was referring to. The Great Qi had cleaned out a couple of affiliated little states in the north; they were robbing the Great Chen’s land real fast.
I only said, “Father originally wanted to fight the Great Qi till the end of his life, right?” Father had always been straightforward and upright; he wasn’t one to circle around.
Uncle Tong froze as he looked at me, “How did you know?” It had only been a couple of days, yet he looked like he had aged by ten years. Even his reactions had gotten a tad slower.
I looked up to the sky and stared at the cloud.
What else did I not know?
serene: Chapter 21 is sponsored by Chona!